2019 Calls For CDI Leadership

  • Dr. Terrance Govender
  • January 25, 2019

As the New Year has begun, one may find it hard to avoid topics like goals, objectives, planning, and visions for 2019. CDI, of course, is not exempt from such topics. This post poses more of a challenge for our industry, as opposed to providing mere suggestions on setting goals and attaining objectives.

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review, which resonated deeply with my own beliefs about the CDI industry and where it needs to go. My key takeaways from the article concern the following three common mistakes people make when talking about leadership and management:

  1. Using the terms “management” and “leadership” interchangeably. The article confirms that there is, indeed, a distinction between the two, which can be identified by the vital, but different functions that each role plays.
  2. Reference to leadership being limited to those who are at the top of hierarchies and those below them as management. The article calls this out as being a mistake and very misleading.
  3. Associating leadership with personality characteristics, like having charisma. This, in turn, provides limitations as to who can provide leadership and adopt the appropriate mentality.

When it comes to CDI, I believe we are often guilty as charged regarding the points above. The industry, having been around for a significant period of time, is hungry for true leadership, over and above excellent management. Let’s take a moment to distinguish between the two as it pertains to CDI.

Management is centered around well-defined processes, which allows CDI to deliver on its commitments. These processes and/or tasks vary widely and may include staffing, budgeting, and performance monitoring through productivity measures and other KPIs. This allows the program to deliver and demonstrate value to the organization.

This, on its own, is no easy task and by no means less crucial than leadership. It is a role that involves a significant amount of complexity and stress, and should never be undervalued. Overall success of the program is highly dependent on a manager/director who is capable and reliable, which requires that individual to have, in many cases, a wide range of skills or competencies. This, however, is still not, and very distinct from, true leadership.

When I think of leadership, often the word “visionary” comes to mind. The article talks about leadership being associated with taking an organization into the future by finding and exploiting opportunities. For CDI, this is looking ahead and envisioning what is needed, way before even the best manager is typically able to seek out improvements.

Leaders are wired differently, especially when thinking about how they can carve the way towards a future state that is more efficient, effective, and successful. I have a firm belief that there is a shortage of such individuals in the CDI industry. A critical mass of true leaders who question the status quo, challenge their teams and organizations to adopt new strategies and thinking, and think outside of the box are essential to addressing the future demands on CDI by elevating its role in healthcare.

An example of this would be for an individual to look at the ever-expanding scope of CDI, and then prepare to meet these challenges with two distinct thought processes:

  1. Management: How can we expand the program and make the current process of chart review more efficient by prioritizing charts for review by the CDI program?
  2. Leadership: Does the traditional/current approach develop a culture that promotes high-quality clinical documentation and continuously improves provider documentation practices?

The manager sees the problem and the challenges it may bring in the short term, and how it would affect their ability to deliver on CDI’s commitments. The leader looks way beyond these challenges of execution, and appreciates that the scope and importance of CDI will continue to broaden and evolve, given the shifts in payer contracts, quality initiatives, and value-based healthcare models.

Recognizing that relying solely on traditional approaches might not be sustainable or economical years from now, leaders begin to think about augmenting or even disrupting the current processes with approaches that could be more effective as the environment evolves. Such innovative approaches may strike “non-visionaries” as impossible, but because significant change is necessary in CDI, avoiding such options does not damper a leader’s spirit or drive.

Leadership, if you recall, should not be limited to those at the most senior levels of the hierarchy. Anyone can, in some way, shape or form, try to adopt such a mindset. I encourage you to break the mold and “think outside the box” for a bit, because our industry is hungry for it.

"Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things."

- Peter Drucker


Dr. Terrance Govender
VP of Medical Affairs, ClinIntell, Inc.